The Masterful Hawaiian Fisherman

Painting by Herb Kane

Painting by Herb Kane

Historically, Hawaiians have had five methods of fishing: spearing, hand-catching, baskets, hook and line and nets.

There were two kinds of spearing fish, below and above water (above-water spearing was very rarely used.) Below water was the most important; the spear used by the diver was a slender stick, 6 to 7 feet long, made of very hard wood and sharply pointed on one end.

Some fishermen dive to well-known habitats of certain fish and lobsters and, thrusting their arms under rocks or in holes, bring out the fish one by one and put them into a bag attached for the purpose to the loin cloth. Women frequently do the same in shallow waters, and catch fish by hand from under coral projections.

There are two ways of octopus fishing. In shallow water the spear is used. Women generally attend to this. Those caught in shallow waters vary from 1 to 4 feet in length, but the larger kinds live in deep water always and are known as blue-water octopus.

Deep-water octopus are caught with cowries; one (or more) of these shells is attached to a string with an oblong pebble on the face of the shell. A hole is pierced in one end of the back of one of the shells through which the line is passed. A hook whose point stands almost perpendicular to the shaft or shank is then fastened to the end of the line.

The fisherman having arrived at his fishing-grounds first chews and spits on the water a mouthful of kukui (candle-nut) meat which renders the water glassy and clear; he then drops the shell with hook and line into the water and swings it over a place likely to be inhabited by an octopus.

The octopus, when in its hole, is always keeping a lookout for anything eatable that may come within reach of its eight arms. The moment a cowry is perceived, an arm is shot out and the shell clasped; one arm after the other comes out.

Finally, the whole body is withdrawn from the hole and attaches itself to the cowry, which it closely hugs, curling itself all around it.

It remains very quiet while being rapidly drawn up through the water, till, just as its head is exposed above water it raises it, when the fisherman pulls the string so as to bring its head against the edge of the canoe and it is killed by a blow from a club which is struck between the eyes.

Torch-light fishing is practiced on calm dark nights. The fish are either caught with small scoop-nets or are speared. Torch-light fishing is always done in shallow water where one can wade (walking without a splash, that would disturb the fish.) The torches are made of split bamboos secured at regular intervals with leaves, or of twigs of sandal-wood bound together.